Arizona NAACP Branch Files SuperMax Prison Construction Complaint

Editor April 14, 2013 2

Arizona Community Press |

Photo taken by  Christoph Gielen.

Photo taken by Christoph Gielen.

The Maricopa County Branch of the NAACP filed a complaint on Friday, April 12th with the Arizona State Board of Technical Registration requesting that the Board conduct an investigation of the architectural firm that has been awarded the proposal pursuant to State of Arizona Bid Solicitation: ADSPO13-00002006 for professional design services for design and construction administration of a 500 bed maximum security prison.

The maximum security prison, also known as a “supermax” (short for “super-maximum security”) prison, is a “control-unit” prison or section which house inmates who are  considered high security risks.  According to the National Institute of Corrections, “A supermax is a stand-alone unit or part of another facility and is designated for violent or disruptive inmates. It typically involves up to 23-hour-per-day, single-cell confinement for an indefinite period of time. Inmates in supermax housing have minimal contact with staff and other inmates.”  Here in Arizona there are currently “supermax” prisons in Florence and Tucson.

The NAACP argues that the proposal violates the Administrative Code and Rules of Professional Conduct of architects because the duty to the client (Arizona Department of Corrections) conflicts with the duty to the public and presents a serious threat to public health, safety or welfare. The proposal violates the Rules of Professional Conduct because it violates human rights, is discriminatory, shows disregard of the rights of others, endangers public safety, is not environmentally sustainable, and ignores the responsibilities of architects to others including the public and prisoners.

The prison discipline study, a mass national survey assessing formal and informal punitive practices in U.S. prisons, concluded that “solitary confinement, loss of privileges, physical beatings” and other forms of deprivation and harassment were “common disciplinary practices” that were “rendered routinely, capriciously and brutally” in maximum-security U.S. prisons. The study also noted receiving “hundreds of comments from prisoners” explaining that jailhouse lawyers who file grievances and lawsuits about abuse and poor conditions were the most frequently targeted. Black prisoners and the mentally ill were also targeted for especially harsh treatment.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) recently began describing supermax conditions as torture. Many studies have documented the detrimental psychological effects of solitary confinement, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and panic attacks. For NRCAT, the term ‘prolonged solitary confinement’ is equated to torture – the point when the use of solitary confinement results in severe mental or physical pain or suffering.

American judges have recognized solitary confinement of the mentally ill as equivalent to torture in the Madrid v. Gomez case because supermax prisons produce a syndrome characterized by “agitation, self-destructive behavior, and overt psychotic disorganization. … “primitive aggressive fantasies,” paranoia, and hallucinations. The U.S. has been criticized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union and the U.N. Committee Against Torture for our use of supermaximum prisons and in particular isolation that may be cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

On April 3rd Arizona ACLU and American Friends Service Committee sent a letter to Governor Jan Brewer opposing the building of new supermax prison beds.  The letter begins by saying “We write on behalf of all Arizonans who oppose the state’s plans to build 500 additional maximum security prison beds, using $50 million from mortgage settlement funds. We are convinced that this is the wrong direction for Arizona.”

Maricopa County Branch NAACP stated in recent press release, “Many states are closing their supermaximum prisons because they realize how ineffective and inefficient they are. Only Arizona is moving to build more of this 1900 century technology. To do so violates the principles of the architects code of ethics and professional responsibility and should be stopped.”

  • Peggy Plews

    YAY NAACP!!! Our current supermax is already full of people who are
    neither violent nor disruptive – check out this guy chad, here. They
    just pack guys like him in there to justify moving forward with this

  • Concerned Citizen / Taxpayer

    AIASF Board Supports Ending Design of Execution Chambers and Solitary Confinement

    Posted on March 1, 2013

    “Following an emotional and intense discussion at the Jan. 25 retreat, the AIASF chapter board of directors voted to endorse a petition from Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) urging the AIA National board to amend the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to ban the design of execution chambers and solitary confinement. The proposal strengthens existing Ethics Code language calling for support of human rights by identifying the relevant United Nations standards and stating that AIA members should not be involved with designing buildings intended to house specific activities that violate human rights. Other recent ethics code amendments have added similar public-interest provisions such as responsibilities to the environment, encouragement of pro bono work, and full pay for architectural interns.

    If adopted by the AIA National Board, the amendment would apply to execution chambers and to “supermax” prisons, which are large buildings intended for prolonged solitary confinement. Raphael Sperry, AIA, president of ADPSR, presented the case for the ethics amendment, noting that newly evolving international and domestic human rights standards are strongly opposed to capital punishment and solitary confinement over fifteen days. He noted that solitary confinement causes intense suffering through the withdrawal of the minimal level of social interaction necessary to sustain mental health. The fact that supermax prisons are specifically designed to exclude all spaces for any group socialization — quite the opposite of most other building types — was taken as a powerful indictment of their purpose and of the involvement of design professionals in their realization, especially as many individuals are held in supermax prisons for years or even decades.

    Board members also took note that similar ethical codes among doctors, psychologists, and other medical professionals prohibit their participation in capital punishment or torture. The observation that doctors’ refusal to certify lethal injections as not “cruel and unusual” caused significant delays in the process of carrying out executions in California convinced many board members that professional associations can and should play an important independent role in maintaining the ethical standards of civil society.”